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The Charlotte Observer's Rana Cash reflects on her first year as executive editor of the paper

Rana Cash, Executive Editor of the Charlotte Observer.
Jeff Siner/jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Rana Cash, Executive Editor of the Charlotte Observer.

It’s been almost a year since Rana Cash was named executive editor of the Charlotte Observer. She’s the first Black person to hold that position in the paper’s 136-year history. Cash comes to Charlotte from Georgia, where she was executive editor of the Savannah Morning News. This isn’t Cash’s first rodeo in Charlotte. From 2010 to 2016, she was deputy editor of the Charlotte-based Sporting News magazine. Before that, she covered Georgia Tech football and basketball for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. In her first interview since joining the Charlotte Observer, she talks about her vision for the paper and her start in journalism while on a track scholarship at Florida A&M University.

Rana Cash: I started out in sports journalism — just kind of a fluke in a way, being on an athletic team. And so I started interviewing my teammates and coaches and athletes in the cafeteria with me. And next thing you know, I was a sports reporter, then a sports editor and launched into a long-time sports career before transitioning to news.

Gwendolyn Glenn: As a sports reporter and sports editor, what was it like being a woman and a Black woman in an area where you oftentimes didn't see a lot of women — period — covering sports and also Black women?

Cash: At the time when I was doing it, I believe I was the first Black women to cover the Masters (Tournament) in Augusta. I was often one of few people of color and one of few women in press boxes when I covered SEC football, you know, traveling all around the Southeast. There just weren't very many people who looked like me. But I was welcomed and, you know, supported by other journalism colleagues. That may not have always been the case from those on the outside — in terms of readers and the criticism that you would get, the sexism, the racism, etc. But we had some folks to look up to Claire Smith, who was just a legend in sports writing, a Black woman and had done so much and was someone that I could look up to and admire.

Glenn: So when did you switch from sports reporting to hard news?

Cash: It started during the pandemic. I was in Louisville at the Louisville Courier-Journal, where I was the sports editor. There was a moment there right at the height of the pandemic, when all of sports shut down and there were no games being played or anything going on. But I knew that I had a lot more to offer than just sports. And the other folks on the staff recognized that. And I immediately began to do news editing. I'd actually transitioned out of sports earlier in my career for about four or five years when I worked in Atlanta. So then I got back into the news side in Louisville, and it just felt like the right time between the pandemic, Breonna Taylor had been killed, George Floyd had been killed. There was a lot going on in the country and I felt that I had a lot more to offer, as a leader, that reached beyond sports. And so it was a good time to make that transition and I began working in news in Louisville and then eventually took over as the executive editor of the Savannah Morning News.

Glenn: Well, when you came to the Observer as the editor, you talked a lot about reimagining the paper. Tell us what you meant by that and also what made you want to come back to Charlotte to be the editor here?

Cash: I love Charlotte. It's it's my favorite place that I've ever lived. It's really, really good to be back here. In terms of what we're doing at the paper, we did launch what we call "reimagined print." We do twice-a-week deeper storytelling on things that are of interest to readers. We take up a considerable amount of space in the paper to tell stories that we feel are important and interesting. And we treat it as such with big photos and in-depth reporting and graphics and videos and things of that nature, trying to be multi-dimensional. We have more than a dozen partners in addition to the content that we produce. Most recently this week we just added HBCU Game Day that fills a void in sports. We're experimenting a lot. We feel like there's 1.2 million people or so in Mecklenburg County, and we want to reach as many of them as possible.

Glenn: And I was going to ask you, how do you plan to connect the people more with the Charlotte community, especially the Black community and other communities of color? How do you plan to do that?

Cash: We have some exciting initiatives going on right now. We're in the planning stages of creating mobile newsrooms where we will go around the community and set up shop in some of the Black communities and report from there and allow people and invite people to come in and tell us the stories they want us to write about. We recently hired a race, culture and community engagement editor so that we can be more intentional about having these conversations with the community, inviting them in and going into their spaces, wherever that might be. And then we've put great focus on making sure that our content is diverse, it's inclusive. We're not writing about people; we're writing for a broader audience and being intentional in the coverage that we offer.

Glenn: And the paper right now does not have physical offices, right?

Cash: We're off of Wilkinson Boulevard. We've been there for four or five months now. It's ample space. It's a welcoming environment.

Glenn: This is a much smaller space and how do you think that is going to affect people not being able to see this is where the Charlotte Observer lives and connecting to it?

Cash: I think is important that we connect with the community, that our connection is not a building. It's important for our reporters to be out in the community talking to people. Do great journalism, impact the community, have an effect on policies and issues that we think that would improve the living conditions for people in Charlotte. And we don't need a building to accomplish that.

Glenn: The city, I'm sure, has changed a lot since you were here before. It's continuing to grow. It's becoming more diverse. You have a lot of transplants — I'm one of them. And how do you see the paper covering this city as it is changing and as it is continuing to evolve?

Cash: Since I've been here in October, coming up on a year now, we've hired 15 people. Eight of those positions were positions that we created. And so when we make these hires, we're thinking about not just the job that's in front of them, but what else do you bring to the table? How can you help us make a better Charlotte through our coverage? Because the community is demanding that of us. As it grows, we have to grow with it and in many cases try to be ahead of that growth, telling people things they don't know, helping people feel more informed and empowered. So it's a challenge and will continue to be as Charlotte grows, but we feel like we can keep up with it.

Rana Cash is the executive editor of the Charlotte Observer.

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Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.